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Southern Turnip Greens Recipe

Enjoy a memorable taste of the South with this updated Southern Turnip Greens recipe. It’s about as country as a recipe can be, packed with flavor and nostalgia, but updated with a modern, slightly healthier cooking method.

Okay, everybody. This really is about as Southern as it gets. Turnip Greens. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

A mound of cooked turnip greens in a white serving bowl.

Whenever the weather turns just the least bit cooler I always start thinking about turnip greens. With cornbread on the side. And a baked sweet potato. And maybe a crispy, fried pork chop. Oh, my.

🥬 Southern Girl Needs Her Greens

When BeeBop and I were newly married and exiled to New Hampshire by the U.S. Navy, we really missed our familiar southern foods, especially fresh produce. Luckily for us, we found a little place called Tuttle’s Red Barn. It was a farm near Portsmouth owned and operated by the same family for generations. And they had a produce store open to the public.

Well, one fall afternoon, we went out to Tuttle’s to get some farm-fresh produce, and I noticed their very large display of turnip roots. However, no greens! Being the naive young southern girl that I was then, I went up to one of the workers and asked where the turnip greens were. She directed me to the lovely display of roots.

I very sweetly explained to her that what I was looking for was the greens, “you know, the part that grows above the ground out of the tops of the roots.” Well, that girl looked at me like I had three heads, and each of them had sprouted horns. She said, “The tops!?!? We feed those to the pigs!” Whereupon I very sweetly informed her that in the South, we cook and eat the greens, and if she had never had any, then she didn’t know what she was missing.

Needless to say, I went home without any turnip greens that day, but it did cross my mind to sneak around back of the store and see if the pigs had any to share.

🪣 Washing Fresh Greens is a Pain in the Behind

Now you have to really want turnip greens badly to go to the trouble of washing them. It’s a painstaking, time-consuming process. Greens fresh from the garden always have a lot of grit clinging to the leaves, and you certainly don’t want that in your pot! I have heard tell of folks cleaning their greens in the washing machine. In a pillowcase. Really.

Fortunately for all of us, they now come washed and ready to cook in lovely cellophane bags in the produce section of the grocery store! Oh, happy day when those pre-washed greens became available!

I used to do the traditional recipe where you cook some sort of smoked meat in water for a while to make a seasoned broth, then add the turnips plus a load of bacon grease and cook for hours. However, these days, I do try to lighten things up. Sometimes. So, here’s how I cook turnip greens in a slightly lighter way.

❤️ Why We Love This Recipe


  • It’s an easy, straightforward recipe that doesn’t skimp on the rich, smoky flavors Southerners love.
  • It’s lighter on the bacon grease without sacrificing taste.
  • Perfect with cornbread or as a side to most traditional Southern entrees.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING …

“I smiled reading your turnip recipe. EVERY good Southern cook keeps bacon grease on hand. When I lived in CA, everyone thought I was nuts…the question was always WHY do you keep bacon grease??? Definitely a Southern thang!”
— Gooch

🛒 Ingredient Notes


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All ingredients needed for the recipe.
  • Turnip greens — The star of the recipe. They’re rich in nutrients and full of earthy flavors. Most Southern grocery stores have fresh turnip greens available throughout the fall and winter months, either in large bunches or pre-washed, cut, and packaged in cellophane bags.
  • Bacon fat — It adds a hint of smokiness and depth. Just a tablespoon does the trick! Did you know that you can purchase bacon fat off the shelf now? I always have it in my refrigerator, but if you don’t keep it on hand, that may be a good option for you.
  • Chicken bouillon –  Enhances the savory flavors in the cooking liquid.

The complete ingredient list with detailed measurements is included in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.

🥄 How to Cook Turnip Greens


  1. In a large pot, combine the fresh greens, bacon fat, chicken bouillon, salt, and water.

👉 PRO TIP: You’ll need enough water to cover the turnips by about an inch once they’ve wilted down into the pot. I usually start with about 2 quarts and adjust as needed.

Turnips are like any other leafy green in that they will cook down to a much smaller volume. If the pot is overflowing with greens at first, that’s okay. It’ll only be that way for a few minutes.

  1. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  2. Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until the greens are tender. Check the water level during cooking and add more if needed.

👉 PRO TIP: Some cooks add a pod of red pepper to the pot. If that’s your thing, go right ahead! Also, most people eat their greens with a vinegary pepper sauce or red chili pepper flakes. There’s no wrong way to eat turnip greens!

  1. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

👉 Pro Tip: Lightening up the Seasoning


The traditional way of seasoning a pot of greens is by using either smoked meat (ham hock or turkey leg) or fresh pork. I prefer a smoky taste, but my mother prefers fresh pork in greens. To cook turnip greens using the traditional method, you would put a large pot of water on to boil with your choice of seasoning meat and let that cook for an hour or so until you have a lovely broth. Then, add the greens and proceed from there.

In this recipe, I use a minimal amount of fat in the form of bacon grease. See that one little bity tablespoon of bacon fat up there? That little bit is not going to hurt anybody, but it will add a wonderful smoky taste to the greens.

The chicken bouillon gives it an additional depth of flavor. The combination of the two substitutes for the big piece of meat we traditionally use in this recipe. I use this same combination of bacon fat and bouillon with lots of vegetables.

Cooked turnip greens in a white serving bowl.

🍽️ How to Serve Southern Turnip Greens


What’s the point in having turnip greens if you don’t have some cornbread to go along with them? After all, you’ve got all that wonderful pot likker (for those of you not from the South, pot likker (liquor) is the juice in the pot with the turnip greens). Any cornbread you like is fine, but there’s not much better than old-fashioned Hot Water Cornbread.

And for many people, turnip greens are simply not complete without a splash of hot sauce. Specifically the vinegary pepper sauce. Either Texas Pete or Louisiana brand are fantastic choices!

🤔 How Do You Counteract the Bitterness in Turnip Greens?



Honestly, I’ve never noticed a pronounced bitter flavor in turnip greens, but I know others have. The best way to ensure your greens are not bitter is to pick (or purchase) them after the first frost of the year. Frost on greens eliminates bitterness. If you grow your own, that’s easy. If you’re buying them from the grocery store, you’d have to ask where they came from and when they were picked. Otherwise, simply add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the greens for the final 20 minutes of cooking time.

🍚 How to Store


Cool the greens completely and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They’ll keep well for up to 3 days.

Cooked turnip greens may also be frozen in an airtight container for up to three months. Allow them to thaw overnight and the refrigerator and reheat over low heat or in the microwave.

❓ Questions About Southern Turnip Greens


Will this recipe work for collards or mustard greens?

Yes! You can use this same method for either collard greens or mustard greens. Mustard greens are a little more tender and may not require quite as much cooking time. 

Can I use frozen turnip greens?

Of course you can use frozen, but there is absolutely no comparison with fresh! Frozen turnip greens have something that I’d call a “grassy” flavor, giving them a completely different taste from fresh.

What can I substitute for bacon fat?

I’d encourage you to try either bacon fat or the more traditional smoked meat broth preparation at least once. Nothing else will give you that flavor. However, if you’re interested in a meatless option, try using vegetable broth in place of the water and seasoning, adding a dash of “liquid smoke” if you like.

Is it necessary to add chicken bouillon?

Absolutely necessary? No. But it adds a delicious layer of flavor. You can omit it if you like.

Lana Stuart.

Questions? I’m happy to help!

If you have more questions about the recipe, or if you’ve made it and would like to leave a comment, scroll down to leave your thoughts, questions, and/or rating!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

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A mound of cooked turnip greens in a white serving bowl.

Southern Turnip Greens

This Southern Turnip Greens recipe is about as country as can be! It's a traditional recipe that uses a slightly healthier cooking method.
5 from 9 votes
Print It Rate It
Course: Side Dishes
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 69kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh turnip greens cleaned, cut, and washed
  • Water (see notes)
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon or 1 cube
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • In a large pot, combine the greens, bacon fat, chicken bouillon, salt, and water (see notes)
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until the greens are tender. Check the water level during cooking and add more if needed.
  • Taste and add additional salt if needed.

Notes

  • You’ll need enough water to cover the turnips by about an inch once they’ve wilted down into the pot. I usually start with about 2 quarts and adjust as needed.
  • Cool the greens completely and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They’ll keep well for up to 3 days.
  • May also be frozen in an airtight container for up to three months. Allow them to thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat on the stovetop over low heat or in the microwave.

Nutrition Information

Serving 1 | Calories 69kcal | Carbohydrates 11g | Protein 2g | Fat 3g | Saturated Fat 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat 1g | Cholesterol 2mg | Sodium 455mg | Potassium 448mg | Fiber 5g | Sugar 1g | Vitamin A 17519IU | Vitamin C 91mg | Calcium 288mg | Iron 2mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on December 4, 2009. It has been updated with additional information and new photos.

A serving of cooked turnip greens in a brown bowl.
5 from 9 votes (7 ratings without comment)

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25 Comments

  1. Love all these recipes and have not tried them all… this southern girl loves Lana’s form of cooking using less ingredients. Yum for some🤗

  2. 5 stars
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, see you in 2024.

  3. Maria & Willie says:

    5 stars
    Hi, I’m from Florida and my husband is from Alabama. We both met, married and reside in NY State. One day I told him that my mom used to make Turnip greens with corn meal but I didn’t know how to make it and all the ladies from her generation has passed on to glory. So I decided to go online and look for it. What popped up? Your recipe. I was so excited. This will be our dinner tonight. Thank you so much for putting it online. Now our next adventure will be to find how to make Tea-Cakes :).

    1. I’m so glad you found the recipe and I hope your thoroughly enjoy your dinner! And, by the way, all you need to do is a quick search on my site for the best tea cakes recipe.

  4. Leila Reece says:

    My husband planted my collard patch last weekend! As a twist, I sauté a couple of slices of thick cut, smoked bacon, remove from my big pot and add the greens then. Proceed to toss and coat the greens then add water to cover. We like subtle spice so I add a couple of tablespoons of a Cajun spice mix called “Slap ‘Yo Mama”. It’s available online. Never add sugar! We also love any kind of field peas and fix the same way. BTW you can always add water but starting with too much can affect the flavor!

  5. I’m home with the flu, and could cry this looks so good! I wish I had a bowl in front of me right now, with some pepper vinegar (both for flavor, and to clear out my sinus’s!) This is my favorite cornbread of all time, although I miss my grandma’s little finger prints on the top (she’d press the tops down once they were in the pan). My grandparents raised pigs, but they did not get our greens!

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      So sorry you’re not feeling well! A big bowl of greens would help me, too, if I had the flu :-)

  6. Do you use plain fine ground white cornmeal or self rising fine ground white cornmeal?
    Thank you,
    Brenda

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      I use plain cornmeal

  7. Lana,
    By the way bacon grease keeps very well in an air tight container in the freezer and tastes like you just fried the bacon. ;)

  8. Hi Lana,
    I’m from the Midwest and we call these “Hot Water Corn Bread” because instead of using cold water we add boiling hot water to the meal, yet the end results are the same. They are some good crunchy little buggers and taste just as well as with Sauerkraut and Pig Feet or Baked Ribs in the oven with Sauerkraut. They are absolutely delightful! My kids loved them when they were growing up and were requested quite frequently.

  9. Greens and bacon grease – so good! What you are calling corn pone is known in some parts of SE Alabama & the panhandle of Florida as fried corn bread. The best corn bread there is! Also, you don’t have to put it in the oven. Just continue frying until it’s crispy. The thinner the batter the crispier the bread. If you make more than you can eat at one meal you can reheat in a cast iron skillet on low on the stove. It’s not as good as fresh but darn close.

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      I’m from SW Georgia, Beth, but we never called this “fried” cornbread, always corn pone. And yes, you can cook it on top of the stove but it makes a big mess. That’s why I like to put it in the oven :-) We also do a very thin cornbread that is always fried on top of the stove and we call that “Lacy Cornbread.” It’s light, thin and full of holes…looks like lace almost!

      1. I live in Southern South Carolina. The Greens really should only be cooked for only a few minutes. They keep the nutrition and are not slimy, with a little crunch. Cook the Collard the same. I put water in a pot, add ham hocks, and some raw bacon. I let the water boil for 30 minutes to get the flavor in the pot for the greens. I keep it boiling, add the green, cover it with a lid, and cut the burner off. Done

        1. Well, I and thousands of other traditional southern cooks would beg to differ with you. If you want bitter, undercooked greens go right ahead by all means. I’ll cook mine done. And, by the way, I’ve never had slimy greens.

  10. Can I replace the water with buttermilk, I was always remembering my memaw In Mississippi using buttermilk.. And without a dab of sugar will the greens be bitter… I too keep bacon grease in the freezer, how long will it keep if I just keep it in the fridge?

    1. Hi Lorri – there are so many different kinds of cornbread. Some of them use water and some use buttermilk. I usually use buttermilk in the ones that are thicker and more cake-like. Water is one of the things that make pone bread (or hoe cakes) turn out flatter. About the sugar in the greens…I have never in my life put sugar in greens and they don’t taste bitter to me. Bacon grease I keep in the fridge for sometimes as much as six months. Just smell it to make sure it doesn’t have a rancid odor before you use it.

  11. Yum! I grew up on this stuff. I have never made corn pone that way, though. Mom taught us to fry it in the cast iron skillet on top of the stove. (We call if fried corn bread.) Do you have to turn it?

    1. No, you don’t have to turn it but you should be sure and spoon some of the hot oil over the top when you put it in the oven. I cook it that way to avoid some of the mess the stovetop cooking makes :-)

  12. Yep, that’s about as good as it gets. You know, the old folks always said that greens taste sweeter if they are picked after the first frost. If I had any planted, they would be pretty tasty after last night. When there’s a bit of cool in the air, nothing can match turnip greens, corn pone, and roasted sweet potatoes. Yum!!!

    Miss P

  13. Lana,
    I smiled reading your turnip recipe. EVERY good Southern cook keeps bacon grease on hand. When I lived in CA, everyone thought I was nuts…the questions was always WHY do you keep bacon grease??? Definitely a Southern thang!

    The corn pones recipe reminds me of of Sunday dinner at my Grandmothers. YUM!!! And it was dinner, NOT lunch! :-)

    1. Absolutely! I keep a little jar of bacon grease in the refrigerator all the time. I don’t use it as often as I used to, but it’s always there…just in case. And, yes, it was dinner, not lunch! And later that evening was supper.

  14. Oh this is making me hungry! I love greens, all kinds of greens. I married a southern boy and being from an Italian family, well the greens were right in there! Never made pones, so I’m putting your recipe on my must try list! Thanks for sharing it Nana Lana.

  15. Nana Nana – that is my kind of eating … a bit healthier than mine Istill use a smoked ham hock), chicken broth a tad of sugar….